Is Alice Free in Wonderland?

“Still she went on growing, and, as a last resource, she put one arm out of the window, and one foot up the chimney, and said to herself ‘Now I can do no more, whatever happens. What will become of me?’

Luckily for Alice, the little magic bottle had now had its full effect, and she grew no larger: still it was very uncomfortable, and, as there seemed to be no sort of chance of her ever getting out of the room again, no wonder she felt unhappy.”

I chose a passage in the beginning of the book, where Alice is first experiencing her stages of uncontrollable growing and shrinking. Throughout Alice in Wonderland, I noticed that Alice’s lack of control over anything that happens to her was a common theme. Specifically, Alice is often trapped or confined to an area, which I read as a metaphor for the boundaries women faced in the Victorian era.
In this passage specifically, in the fourth chapter of Alice in Wonderland, I felt as though her physical growth and the negativity it brought mirrored what happened as people grew older. Specifically for female children, I believe they’re given more freedom as children than they are as adults. Children can say and do things that offend people, but are excused because of their age, and lack of understanding of the consequences. But, as they grow older, they are reprimanded, and unable to do things like play outside or explore the world independently, as Alice does in Wonderland. When Alice asks the question “What will become of me?” I think it’s interesting that there’s no evidence of her panic or hysteria in this moment. She is simply asking the question, and is not asking herself what she can do to get out of the situation, but is admitting she cannot help herself further, leaving the solution to someone or something else. The ending of the passage, “there seemed to be no sort of chance of her ever getting out of the room again, no wonder she felt unhappy.” I felt was a reflection of Alice’s fears of growing older and being confined to a set of responsibilities and chores. It was a happy coincidence that Alice grew just to the point of being too big for the room, and not bigger still. I think this section would have been interesting if Alice grew so big she broke the barriers of the room and was free to the outside world.
The physical entrapment of Alice in this passage strongly alluded to the invisible barriers women faced in the Victorian era. I felt as though Alice’s situation here reflected her fears, and the eventual end to her freedom in Wonderland.

“The Femme Fetale as Object” and “My Last Duchess”

In the Victorian Web’s article, “The Femme Fetale As Object” by Elizabeth Brown, she describes the portrayal of these Victorian women in artwork. In many paintings, women aren’t shown in their true form, but rather versions of themselves with altered proportions. For example, women would be shown with a more elongated spine or longer legs, so they were not always anatomically correct in their portraits. Through these alterations, these women were reduced to a version of themselves based mostly on “pleasing arrangements of shapes and light.” (Brown). The idea of a woman being dismembered in such a fashion reminded me of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” The speaker in the poem doesn’t refer to the duchess as an entity, but rather reduces her to her features, and talks specifically about parts of her, but never describes the entire painting. Through the freedom of artists to alter their paintings to idealize proportions, the woman is not only anatomically incorrect, but her value and individuality are diminished.

The first line in “My Last Duchess” that struck me was when the speaker took note specifically of Fra Pandolf’s hands. By switching the subject of the sentence from the artist to his hands, it dehumanizes him and reduces his creativeness to the tools of his creation-his hands. This is consistent with his descriptions of the duchess, as he goes on to describe the way she blushes. He doesn’t say the word blush, however, which connotes charm and modesty. Instead, the word he uses to describe the flush in her cheeks is “spot.” A “spot of joy” was not a positive description to me as a reader. Instead, it made me think of a stain or something unwanted and undesirable. He does not describe the rest of her face or ever discuss the description of her image as a whole, but he does talk about her mouth and her “smiles” that she wears too often in his opinion. He expresses here his distaste in her flirtatious nature, and his jealousy and unpleasant demeanor become evident. The “femme fatale” is often defined as “a very attractive woman who causes trouble or unhappiness for the men who become involved with her,” which is consistent with the description of the duchess and the husband that survived her.

The imagery present in “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning is fragmented and oftentimes focuses only on specific snippets of images. I found the parallel of the style in which Victorian women were painted and the structure of this poem to be really interesting. The idea of using fragmented parts to create a more appealing whole is consistent in both mediums.

Sexual Imagery in “Goblin Market”

In “Goblin Market” by Christina Rosetti, there are several allusions to female sexuality, even though historically it is a tale about sisterly love. The numerous references to fruit and flowers, to me, served as a metaphor for sexuality and a loss of virginity. Specifically, in the passage where the maidens refer to Jeanie, whose demise serves as the cautionary tale steering the women away from the goblin merchants, I felt as though there were several blatant hints at sex or repeated sexual encounters. The women say, “Do you not remember Jeanie,/How she met them in the moonlight,/ Took their gifts both choice and many,/ Ate their fruits and wore their flowers/ Plucked from bowers/ Where summer ripens at all hours.” (147-152). The choice of words, and the structure of this passage is what made it stand out the most to me in its references to a potential sexual relationship with Jeanie and the goblin men.

The first word that stood out to me here was “moonlight.” I found it interesting that a young woman was going to a market that sells fruit in the nighttime, instead of during the day. The moon is also a repeating image in the poem, as it has several connections with danger and temptation. It is also interesting to note that after Laura eats the goblin fruit in the moonlight, she becomes in sync with the moon’s changing phases. She starts to “dwindle” when the moon changes out of its full phase. The moon and the nighttime are often associated with danger and the unknown, and, since Lizzie and Laura are Victorian women, they have been advised to stay out of anything that causes potential harm or could lead them to lost purity. The theme of purity and its importance was highlighted for me in the fourth and fifth lines of the passage I chose, where Jeanie “Ate their fruits and wore their flowers/ Plucked from bowers.” Here, the use of “fruit” and “flowers” together in a line suggested to me the image of the female reproductive system. A flower is delicate and pure, and the following line “plucked from bowers” suggests that the purity is no longer there and significant. Since a woman’s bowers are her private room or bedroom, I felt as though this line meant that her purity was plucked from her through sexual acts.

Even though the poem “Goblin Market” contains a powerful anecdote of sisterly love, I think through the excessive sexual imagery and the violence of the men towards Lizzie later in the poem, it suggests a darker theme. In the passage introducing Jeanie, I felt as though the words chosen were very deliberate, and allowed the reader to see the sexual undertones present.

Avoiding Female Hysteria

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins was widely referred to as a “sensation novel” as it sparked excitement and desire within the reader through crime, mystery, and romantic triangles.  The dramatic tales were scandalous for the era, and particularly worrisome as they appealed to female reader. In William Greg’s essay discussing the Victorian woman, he focuses particularly on the despair and disappointment of single women. He deems them unaware of their ambitions, and accuses them of setting goals too high to be met, which would leave them in “a dreary void of unshared existence.” In The Woman in White, this idea and the belittling of women is made clear through the male characters. However, Marian Halcombe contrasts the typical female character in her often blunt expressions and her “rational” thoughts.

In Vincent Gilmore’s narration, he has a particularly interesting series of conversations with Marian. His descriptions of Marian often include adjectives that would be used to describe males. He uses hard words, like sharp and dark. On page 146, Marian stands up to Gilmore, in a conversation about Laura. Upon calling Laura “weak and nervous,” Marian says to Vincent Gilmore, “you are altering your opinion about Laura, you are readier to make allowances for her than you were yesterday.” He writes, “No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman.” This not only shows Marian’s ability and confidence to stand up to men, but also her fierce loyalty to Laura, which becomes more and more evident as the book continues. Gilmore, in his narration, is almost submissive, but alludes to the “irrationality” that women were believed to express through their hysteria. I did not interpret his thought as respectful, but rather a mockery of Marian’s provoking statement. Rather than continuing the conversation, he replies to her, “Let me know what happens. I will do nothing till I hear from you.” His avoidance of the argument, or potential conversation, was, in my opinion to avoid Marian getting “hysterical” by some means.